Talking to your teen about drugs, alcohol and heroin

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For many parents, talking with children about drugs and alcohol can be difficult … yet it is essential. Research shows that the more parents talk to their children about drugs and alcohol, the less likely the children will become users.

Have the conversation early with your child.

Start early and continue the discussion throughout the teenage years. Many young children begin experimentation with alcohol, marijuana or tobacco as early as 10 years old. As a parent, you want to communicate your message and values to your child. It’s an important issue in terms of a teen’s health and safety. Talk to them!

Have a clear message.

Substance use is not a rite of passage. Not all kids do it. Even using alcohol or drugs once or twice can develop into problems with school, the law, your health and hinder good relationships. It’s okay to talk to your kids about not using, even if you used drugs/alcohol as a teenager. Let them know that there are consequences for using drugs and alcohol, and it can affect their healthy development.

Set up consequences for drug/alcohol use.

Be a parent, not a friend. Teens will hear many messages about drugs and alcohol that are unclear and mixed. A parent who wants to be the “cool” parent, may be communicating that drugs aren’t a big deal. On the other hand, if a parent is too rigid and judgmental, chances are you’ll get nowhere.

Use teachable moments. Talk regularly to your child about drugs.

Use those moments in the car, or when there is a story in the news, to have a discussion. Like other health issues, once is not enough to talk about drugs with your child. Value your child’s development in life and listen to their struggles and stresses. Listening is critical! Parents must listen so they can have a discussion with their child vs. just telling the child what to do. Also, make the conversation age appropriate – a conversation about drugs is very different with a 10 year old vs. a 16 year old.

Set a good example.

They watch what you do. Set a good example about your own substance use.

Look for signs of drug use.

  • Any changes in appearance, behavior, eating or sleeping habits, red or watery eyes, unexplained mood swings
  • Changes in mood such as lack of motivation, depression or extreme hyperactivity
  • Missing possessions, lack of money
  • Poor school attendance, increased discipline or change in grades
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Secretive about possessions and personal space, increased isolation

Get help at the first sign of trouble.

Parents tend to underestimate the risks or seriousness of drug use, especially with alcohol and marijuana. Seek out a professional and ask for help. Quality of life and your child’s future depend on it! When a teen’s substance use disorder is treated in adolescence – even when mild or moderate – it frequently leads to abstinence or no further problems. (NIDA 2014)